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It's a chance to take on the NCAA champions

Stanford women's volleyball hosts Penn State; women's soccer host Notre Dame in rematch

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

The Stanford women's soccer match with defending national champion Notre Dame on Friday night is a certified sellout, but there's plenty of seats available for Friday's Stanford women's volleyball match against four-time national defending champion Penn State and there's no scheduling conflict.

It's a unique situation and it continues all weekend with additional bonus matches. Stanford's volleyball match begins at 5:30 p.m. The soccer match starts at 7:30 p.m.

"It's an extraordinary soccer event and an extraordinary volleyball event," said Stanford women's volleyball coach John Dunning. "It's crazy there are so many things going on and it's not getting any better, for a preseason tournament, anywhere else. It's awesome."

The Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic also includes No. 7 Florida and No. 10 Texas, which meet in Friday's late match in Maples Pavilion.

The Stanford Nike soccer Invitational also includes No. 11 UC Irvine and No. 17 Santa Clara, with that match preceding the Stanford-Notre Dame rematch.

The Stanford men's soccer team will kick things off at 3 p.m. against visiting Kentucky, ranked 15th in the nation.

And that's not all!

Stanford is also throwing in a couple of nationally-ranked field hockey matches, with the No. 16 Cardinal hosting No. 19 Indiana on Friday at 5 p.m. and No. 18 Northeastern on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The volleyball tournament continues Saturday, with matches at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Soccer continues with matches Sunday beginning at 1 p.m.

"We worked with the volleyball team to adjust the times," Cardinal women's soccer coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "We wanted to make it great for fans of both teams. I still wish I could go to the volleyball match."

The Irish and Stanford met for the national title in last year's NCAA women's soccer tournament. This season, No. 10 Notre Dame (2-2) already has lost to top-ranked North Carolina and Duke while Stanford (4-0-1) remains unbeaten.

"Notre Dame is a great team. Those losses were to top-level opponents," Ratcliffe said. "It's still early in the season. There's no doubt they will be a strong team."

In volleyball, No. 2 Penn State (4-1) surprisingly lost its season-opener at home against Oregon. The Cardinal is undefeated after four matches. Florida and Texas have each lost early matches.

Dunning thinks that only goes to show how many teams could compete for the national title this year. The Ducks, despite a worthy resume, did not make it to postseason play last year.

"Last year was open for a lot of teams," Dunning said. "This year it is very open. With the growth of the Pac-12, it could make volleyball explode."

The volleyball team has been relatively healthy this year, giving junior setter Karissa Cook a full complement of hitters from which to choose. Junior Hayley Spelman and senior Stephanie Browne have missed time.

Cook worked in a 4-2 system last year, meaning she only spent half the time on the court. This year she's the quarterback and in the lineup every play.

"I'm not surprised at all," Dunning said. "She has waited around for her opportunity. She's a 5-1 setter and she's really good at it. I'm happy

with the way people have stepped up so far."

Cook was named Pac-12 women's volleyball Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts in leading the third-ranked Cardinal to a pair of victories in the Stanford Invitational over the weekend.

Cook helped Stanford beat Notre Dame on Friday and No. 18 Duke on Saturday. She averaged 5.00 digs per set, 0.88 blocks and 12.25 assists in the two games.

Cook tied a career high with 20 digs and set a career best with five blocks against the Irish. She also controlled the offense with 47 assists and put down three kills of her own.

She followed that effort with another career outing, recording a career-high 51 assists and matching her career-high with 20 digs in the victory over the Blue Devils.

Cook earned her first career weekly honor. It was Stanford's 75th honor all-time.

Meanwhile, sophomore hitter Rachel Williams seems to have found her rhythm, recording double figures in kills in each match and improving her totals each time. She was named the MVP of last weekend's Stanford Invitational, in which the Cardinal beat both Notre Dame and Duke.

Sophomore Carly Wopat has also recorded double figures in kills in each of the first four matches, also improving her totals each time. She leads the Cardinal with 25 blocks.

"Carly is a natural blocker," Dunning said. "She has good senses, is physical and alert all the time."

It doesn't get any easier for Stanford. The Pac-12 opener arrives Tuesday and it's at California, currently the nation's top-ranked team. The Bears reached their first-ever national championship match last year.

Health is more of an issue with Cardinal soccer. All-American Courtney Verloo has yet to play and remains out this weekend. Ratcliffe said defenders Rachel Quon and Kendall Romine and midfielder Mariah Nogueira should get some playing time.

"We've had several players step in and do a great job," Ratcliffe said.

Among the main contributors have been junior defender Madeline Thompson and senior midfielder Kristy Zurmuhlen.

"Both have been at Stanford for years," Ratcliffe said. "They have an unbelievable work ethic and are getting better and better. Kristy is a talented player. She's not always a starter but she contributes to the team every year. She's an inspirational leader who works harder than anyone and that inspires everybody."

It doesn't get any easier for the soccer team either, with road games at nationally ranked Portland and Santa Clara next week.

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Like this comment
Posted by John R. Grout
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2011 at 12:32 am

Cook didn't play in a 4-2 system last year... she played in a 6-2 system. Six hitters (because Cassidy Lichtman both hit and set and Cook shared her rotation with a hitter... usually Hayley Spelman) and two setters.

The most interesting change on offense this year isn't the switch back to a 5-1 system... except for 1994, 1995 and parts of 2008, 2009 and 2010, that's been Stanford's norm... it's that Stanford has a middle blocker (Carly Wopat) not only regularly playing back row... the first since Barbara Ifejika in 1997... but regularly attacking from the back row. Carly might be the first Stanford MB to do that since Bev Oden, one of the greatest college (and international) players in American volleyball history.

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